Cincinnati’s Racial Wound
On July 19th, an old Cincinnati wound that has been slowing healing for the past 14 years was reopened when white University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing shot and killed African American Samuel Dubose. Mr. Dubose was pulled over for not having OH state tags on the front of his car. Major news outlets from around the world have been covering this story (Cincinnati.com, MSNBC, BBC, Foxnews). Before the grand jury’s indictment was announced, the mood around town was tense. University classes were cancelled. Police were on high alert.
Personally, this all hit home because the shooting occurred in my home neighborhood, Mt. Auburn. The church I planted 5 years ago is home to dozens of UC students who walk to church each week. On July 19th, while I was preaching a sermon about how Christians can faithfully navigate America’s cultural decline, Samuel Dubose was being shot in the head and killed less than a mile away.
The Best and the Worst
Earlier this month, I was proud to call Cincinnati my home when we hosted MLB’s All Star game and local legend Todd Frazier won the home run derby. It was electric. Downtown Cincinnati is vibrant and alive, with a gorgeous riverfront park that invites people from all over the region to sit on our city’s front porch. Just north of downtown, Over the Rhine is a neighborhood undergoing its own unbelievable renaissance, with millions of dollars of redevelopment being invested. This isn’t just hometown pride, others have taken notice, such as National Geographic. Even local Cincinnatians who have inherited her inferiority complex have asked forgiveness and fallen in love (language alert) all over again with our city.
Yet our problems persist. Much of Cincinnati’s current success is due to a dark past of racism and injustice, even if so many of us are unaware of it. For better or worse, this is the city I love and have committed my life to. This is the neighborhood where my kids play. This is where my church is. But we’re sick of the caution tape. We’re sick of the teddy bear memorials on street corners.
We see the best and worst of city life.
The Samuel Dubose shooting shows us that we’ve still got a long way to go. When a white person is pulled over by the police for a minor traffic violation, we think, “Oh crap. I might get a ticket.” But many African Americans don’t have the same experience. Some will tell you getting pulled over by police can be a terrifying experience. And now there’s video evidence (**graphic**) that proves the point. Samuel Dubose should be alive today. Prosecutor Joe Deters called this the most asinine police incident he’s ever witnessed. His outrage gave voice to countless African Americans who feel unfairly targeted and mistreated by police who haven’t had video evidence.
Righteousness and Justice
The bible frequently pairs the words “righteousness” and “justice” (see Psalm 72 for example). Righteousness is the standard of what is truly good, rooted in God’s holy character and love. Justice is the community’s response to unrighteousness and injustice.
As the church, Christians should pray for and promote God’s righteousness in our city, but also fight against injustice when we see it. In so doing, we are pointing people to the good and righteous King who ultimately provides both.
Fighting for righteousness and justice shows us that God himself is the Ultimate Good. Proclaiming God’s righteousness exposes the sin in our world, our cities, and in our own hearts. Fighting for justice shows us that God is bringing all injustice to an ultimate end.
The Hope of God’s Kingdom
That’s the hope of God’s Kingdom. Jesus is the righteous ruler who will bring God’s righteousness and justice to us. And Jesus’ kingdom was bought and paid for through the ultimate injustice, the cross.
Jesus himself was an innocent man who was unfairly targeted by the authorities. Jesus was convicted of a crime he did not commit. Jesus was tortured and killed by people who hated him. There is no greater injustice than what happened at the cross. Yet in Jesus’ resurrection, we see that injustice never gets the last word. Life does. And having conquered the ultimate enemy, death, Jesus promised that all injustice will be made right and God’s righteousness will be absolute.
That is the Christian hope.
Until Christ returns, Christians bear witness to God’s Kingdom in every part of the world. We proclaim a righteous God, who took upon himself all the world’s injustices, and will make all things new in the end.
Injustice never gets last word.